Mexican evolution

Chef Richard Menzes in the kitchen at El Paso
Chef Richard Menzes in the kitchen at El Paso

What a difference a move next door can make to a restaurant, as shown by the new-look El Paso.

The Mexican-Italian restaurant on Cumberland Street at Moorfoot has had a hot new £250,000 makeover and after 20 years has moved into what used to be the Moorfoot Tavern next door.

It’s probably fair to say both premises had seen better days.

El Paso still wants to attract big groups, and maintains the ritual of celebrating birthdays by plonking a sombrero on the head of the victim, but party-goers can enjoy more sophisticated surroundings.

There is a long bar to the right of the door and seating is off to the left, with an open kitchen beyond that.

The colours are a glamorous mixture of grey and orange and red and gold. One wall has been left blank to accommodate a film screen and there is a projector hanging from the ceiling, which is pretty innovative.

The menu still sports that familiar but odd mixture of Mexican favourites with pizzas, pancakes and pasta.

I guess it’s good for large groups where spicy food would put off some diners. It clearly works for El Paso, so why change it? But as the look and feel of the place is Mexican, we stuck to that.

We were quickly seated on arrival and a waitress took our drinks order.

The lighting is moody, so it was a little difficult to read the menu, which is black with white writing.

I liked the look of the chilli hotshots (£3.95) and my friend Linda went for the huevo Mexicano (£4.50).

Prices for appetisers range from £3.50 for pizza base garlic bread to £6.95 for king prawns in garlic butter and white wine sauce.

I was looking for something spicy but I was going to be disappointed as the hotshots were anything but.

Whole green chillis were stuffed with cream cheese and covered in breadcrumbs, then deep fried.

I could be doing the kitchen a disservice but they had the uninspiring feel of something bought in.

Linda was similarly underwhelmed by the huevo dish, which was egg baked with tomato, spinach and cheese. This arrived with a little white bread roll. The sauce was cheesy and rich, but the flavours were muted overall.

Main courses were better.

We agreed to swap halfway and ordered the pollo ranchero (£9.50) and the vegetarian burrito (£8.95).

The chicken dish followed the Mexican tradition of adding chocolate to the sauce – powder in this case – which made it dark, rich and glossy. The meat was cooked with onions, avocado, red beans and tomato and the taste was unusual, aromatic, mildly spicy and interesting.

The roast potatoes and yellow rice served with it were also pretty good.

The large burrito was filled with mixed vegetables plus onions, mushrooms, garlic, chillies, spinach and red beans, all rolled up in a flour tortilla and baked in the oven. It had a proper kick and was very enjoyable.

That dish came with rice and salad.

We were just too stuffed to face pudding.

When the bill arrived, we were treated to glasses of limoncello. We paid £33.90 for our food and two beers.

* The opening night of the restaurant raised £350 for Weston Park Hospital Cancer Charity.

* El Paso, 8-10 Cumberland Street, Sheffield (0114) 273 9523 El Paso